Friday, 9 May 2008

Why Is It Hard To Work In Large Companies?

I've noticed that lately my motivation for work has dropped away a little.  We've recently had a new bundle of joy, Emily, who being the 3rd kiddo means home life is very much about keeping on top of the cleaning, playing with the kids, etc.  I'd previously wondered if this is partly the cause.

But Emily is now 8 months old, and I still feel a degree of apathy, so what is the cause?

I've come to suspect the more likely candidate is work.

You see, I used to work in a small(ish) software house with around 130 staff, I think I knew around 80 of these guys at the time I left.  Since leaving this, I've started in a company with 40'000 staff.  That's a lot of people, a lot of voices and opinions.

Now that I have perspective, I see that there was a really good community there.  People talked from time to time, people challenged things, we worked toward a common set of goals, delivery of a package to our customers and potential customers.

I think that now in such a large environment, these voices may be too small to be heard.  That means you don't get to meet others with the same goals as you or the same problems.  I put my apathy down to a lack of community in my workplace.

I think a lot of the best IT staff do their best work when they have a community to participate in because they are engaged with others and challenges at an ability level without fear of recrimination or career damage.  Simply put, you need to swim with the same fish to be part of the school.

What do I mean by a community?

I believe a community is a group of like minded people with common goals who want to help each other achieve their group goals for mutual benefit.  Sometimes it can be knowledge shared, contacts shared.  Sometimes it can be shared problem solving.

Now, work in a big company and that horrible factor of politics starts to play up.  It's hard to be sure if someone is trying to prove themselves to others, trying to shift out of the way of a bullet, and so on.  Too many people are in it for the money.

I think the community is one of the unspoken requirements for the best development to exist.  Without it, people's views are not challenged or questioned and people find it harder to seek to learn.

And that's quite sad I think...

I'm left pondering how you create a community when,

a) you don't have a project or budget or authority to create one

b) creating such a community would assume you all have clear goals, rarely the case in very large groups of people

c) the community needs members to take a small risk and offer help to their detriment (perhaps they need to use some of their own time to do something).

So my challenge is to understand how to create such a community in a larger organisation when the focus is only on projects, delivery and milestones.

I'm inspired by the material out there on agile methods.  It is clear to me that this approach works best for software development.

I feel at the moment that I have to sort out the community I work in before I can really get my learning back on track properly.

Does this strike a chord with you, and if so what do you think the right way is to tackle the problem?

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